Monday, May 21, 2007

The disingenuous benevolence of nativist rhetoric

This past Sunday, as is my usual weekend routine, I sat through the weekly carnival of double-talk and spin that make up the Sunday morning TV gab-fest.

At the top of the list of this week's topics was the compromise immigration reform measure announced last Thursday.

Demonstrating the fact that opinions really are like buttholes – and everybody's got one, I watched as one pundit or politician after the next took a whack at reducing this complex issue down to a 15 second sound bite.

But what was most revealing about these gaseous exchanges was not what they exposed about the speakers limited knowledge of the intricacies of the issue or detialed facts, but rather how willing they were to play fast and loose with them to make a point.

Perhaps nowhere was art of obfuscation brought to such a masterful level then during the rants of America's favorite crotchety old racist, Pat Buchanan, during his weekly stint of on John McLauglin's shouting match.

Buchanan has never failed to demonstrate why he's been a national embarrassment for over forty years. Yet, given a forum to discuss his views on the non-white population under the guise of the immigration reform was like listening to a barrage of off-color, racists jokes from a drunken relative at a wedding …you can't believe this stuff is coming out of his mouth and you just wish he'd pass out already.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- a complete sellout of working America. The vast majority of these 12 million folks are uneducated and unschooled. They compete directly against African-Americans, single moms, people who didn't get out of high school….


MR. ZUCKERMAN: High school graduates do not want to take these menial jobs. We have a shortage of employees at the low end of the employment spectrum and at the high end. And this bill is going to help us in both areas. It's exactly what we need.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, let me tell you --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's the first rational bill we have, instead of pandering to all the people who just want to condemn immigration, which has been the DNA of this country.

MR. BUCHANAN: You made your point. You made your point, Mort. Half the African-Americans in this country and half the Mexican- Americans don't graduate from high school. And the ones that do have got eighth-grade educations. You're taking their jobs away and you're bringing in millions of workers to compete with them. You're betraying these people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also, to add to what Pat's saying, teenage unemployment is at its highest level ever. Do we really need to bring in unskilled workers to take the jobs right out of the hands of those teenagers?


Before we look at what Pat was really saying during his little tirade, lets look at some facts:

First off, half of all Black and Hispanic kids are not high school dropouts. While dropout rates are higher for minority students…it's far from 50%.

Black and Hispanic youth are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to drop out of high school. In 2004, 7 percent of non-Hispanic whites ages 16 to 24 were not enrolled in school and had not completed high school, compared with 12 percent of blacks and 24 percent of Hispanics. The high rate for Hispanics is in part the result of the high proportion of immigrants in this age group who never attended school in the U.S. Asian youth, with a dropout rate of 4 percent, had the lowest dropout rate among all racial and ethnic groups in 2004.

Secondly, the most recent study on the effects of immigrant labor on the wages of native workers with lower educational levels shows it to be negligible.

Using individual data on the task intensity of occupations across US states from 1960-2000, however, we find that foreign and native-born workers with low levels of education supply very different occupational skills. Immigrants specialize in manual tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and building. Native-born workers — who have a better understanding of local networks, rules, customs, and language — respond to immigration by specializing in interactive tasks such as coordinating, organizing, and communicating. This increased specialization in tasks complementary to those performed by immigrants implied that wages paid to native workers — even those with little formal education — experienced little decline both in the aggregate and in states with large immigration.

Since native-born workers respond to inflows of immigrant labor by specializing in interactive tasks, wage losses associated with immigration are minimal. Immigration caused wages paid to native-born workers with less than a high school degree to drop by just 0.7% between 1990 and 2000.

Comparative Advantages and Gains from Immigration Giovanni Peri (University of California, Davis and NBER), Chad Sparber (Colgate University)
April, 2007

So basically, Pat was only doing what he's been doing for the past forty years …talking out of an orifice not located on his head.

But that's really neither here nor there, because he wasn't really talking about immigration, job loss or his ideas on protecting US workers.

What he was talking about was his belief that people of color are inherently inferior and unable to perform educationally, so they need his protection in order to keep the social status quo.

If in fact the majority of minority children weren't graduating from high school, and those that did only mastered the skills of an eight grader, as Pat believes, why wouldn’t he be outraged by that? Instead he's trying to make sure they have menial, dead end jobs awaiting them.

If 50% of white children failed to graduate from high school rather than the current 7%, Pat would be calling it a national crisis and demand the heads of the educators and government leaders who had failed to do their job.

Yet, in Pat's world, due to their obvious inferiority, people of color cannot be expected to excel academically and it's best off if they just stick to jobs more suited their limited intellects. The jobs he believes that "12 million uneducated and unschooled" immigrants are threatening to steal.

It’s amazing to see the confluence of all of Pat's warped visions about race come together in one neat little package.

And let's not forget McLaughlin's final remark on teenage unemployment. Because if the uneducable Blacks and Latinos don't want those menial jobs meant for them, surely some white children would be capable of doing them... at least after school or during the summer.


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